WALLINGFORD — Wallingford Public Library was buzzing on Tuesday evening as historian Jeffrey Fletcher of the Ruby & Calvin Fletcher African American History Museum in Stratford shared with patrons an interactive Black history display.
During his presentation, Fletcher, a retired New Haven police officer, discussed the history of slavery and displayed his collection of artifacts, some dating back to the 1600s.
Patrons were able to touch tools used to keep slaves from running away, such as neck braces, shackles and handcuffs.
About 40 signed up for the event.
After the passing of Fletcher’s mother, Ruby, in 2001, Jeffrey Fletcher inherited her collection of African American artifacts. Upon receiving them, Fletcher wanted to educate people about African American history and also wanted to share his family history. When the collection was left to him, it contained about 450 pieces — today, it has about 12,000 pieces.
“My mother grew up in South Carolina in the 1930s and saw lots of things like rallies, the KKK and more,” Fletcher said.What led to the opening of the museum?
Fletcher said he would visit people going door to door, asking if they wanted to know more about African American history. Then in 2018, the journey toward the museum’s opening began.
“I grew up in Colchester (in Connecticut), and when I had the chance, I went back to my high school to meet with the principal,” Fletcher said. “I remember telling the police officer there I wanted to speak to the principal, and it was showing him my badge that let me through the front door.”
Fletcher said the principal of his former high school Bacon Academy — Matthew Peel — asked him to start presenting to the students. That led Fletcher to do presentations around the state, but he wanted to find a physical home to store his artifacts.
After shopping around, he found a home, resulting in a 4,800-square-foot museum in Stratford, on 952 East Broadway.
“It took us about eight months to locate the space. It took us five months to repurpose and build,” he said.What was the inspiration for the opening of the museum?
Fletcher said he was inspired by a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Since he had family in Maryland, he often took trips down there to visit.
“It was at the height of when the museum opened up … I found it was awesome, but it was overwhelming,” he said.
There was nothing like it in Connecticut, let alone New England.
“(My mom) had left me this collection, and I had to do something much better with it and showcase it,” Fletcher said. “I came back and started working on bringing this collection to a brick-and-mortar facility.”Who does the message of the museum belong to?
“This is the first African American museum in Connecticut. I always want to expose this information to everyone, and it’s not a history that will hurt you,” Fletcher said. “It’s everybody’s history. It’s American history. Why exclude this information?”What items are covered by the museum?
Some of the rooms at the museum are about the history of slavery. In 1619, ships were filled with Africans of many different tribes, eventually sold as slaves. Another room tells the story of the transatlantic slave trade. According to the museum’s website, this trade was believed to have forcibly displaced about 12.5 million Blacks from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Another room at the museum is dedicated to plantation life. Plantation life was grueling for Blacks as men, women and children worked the fields from dawn to dusk under orders and supervision of white overseers.
Another room is devoted to music by African Americans.What brought the presentation to the Wallingford Library?
Fletcher said he wants to educate people that this museum exists. He travels throughout the state to libraries, schools and anywhere else where he can find people who want to know more about African American history.
He said when he has an opportunity to go to libraries, he visits because that is where people go to learn.How did people feel about the presentation?
“I heard fantastic things about his presentations,” said Kayleigh Sprague, head of teen services at Wallingford Public Library. “He’s becoming very known in the library world as someone to have.”
Nancy Tipping of North Branford said she was pleased with the presentation.
“I thought the presentation was wonderful and that more people should hear it,” she said.When is the museum open?
The museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is closed on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
For more information, visit www.africanamericanmuseumct.org